It's something that everybody is pretty tight-lipped about. Could Mario Hollands possibly return to Philadelphia as a starter? There are a lot of reasons why the Phillies might consider making such a move.
In the past week, there have been two "hints" that the Phillies might be considering moving him to the rotation. First, IronPigs manager Dave Brundage talked on Friday about "stretching him out," a little bit, but was vague on why the Phillies wanted to do that. On Sunday, Brundage truly did stretch Hollands out, having him pitch 2 2/3 innings and throwing 45 pitches (25 for strikes). It wasn't just the innings or the pitch count that was interesting, it was how Hollands got there. In the seventh, with Lehigh Valley trailing 6-5, the pitcher's spot in the order came up with a runner on third and two outs. Instead of going to a pinch-hitter, Brundage allowed Hollands to bat, resulting in a strikeout and ending any threat that the IronPigs had going. The move - or lack, thereof - had fans talking both in the ballpark and on social media after the game. Hollands would throw 2/3 of an inning and 13 more pitches in the top of the eighth, allowing two more runs.
A lot of people forget that Hollands came through the system as a starter. From 2010 through 2013, he had pitched in 96 minor league games, 67 of them as a starter. The first season that he pitched exclusively as a reliever was 2014 when he spent the entire season with the Phillies. It was also the last season that Hollands was healthy. Moving to the bullpen and the timing of his need for Tommy John surgery could well have been a coincidence, but you have to at least wonder if there could have been some correlation.
So, why would the Phillies consider moving him back to the rotation after he had success as a major league reliever in 2014? Perhaps the wear and tear on his arm was simply too much as a reliever and more of a steady workload as a starter would suit him better and the Phillies realize that, but there are other reasons why it just might make sense.
Look at the current Phillies rotation. Adam Morgan is the only left-hander in the rotation and he's only there because of an injury to Charlie Morton, Morgan has been struggling and many theorize that his time in the majors could be coming to an end if he doesn't start putting things together. Next, look at the top pitching prospects in the organization; Jake Thompson, Ben Lively and Mark Appel. Even David Buchanan and lesser prospects like John Richy, Ricardo Pinto and Nick Pivetta. What do they all have in common? They're all right-handers. Tom Eshelman, Tyler Viza and Shane Watson; right-handers. At Lakewood, Franklyn Kilome and Jose Taveras; you guessed it, righties. The best lefty starting prospects you can find are Clearwater's Elniery Garcia and Matt Imhof.
In other words, the Phillies could use a left-handed starting pitcher. Enter Mario Hollands.
Consider as well, that Hollands has four good pitches, a fastball, slider, sinker and change-up. The sinker and change are back to where Hollands wants and needs them to be, but he admitted on Friday that the slider is still a little slow in coming around, and so is the fastball. Hollands told Greg Joyce of the Express-Times on Friday that his elbow "just doesn't want to do it," when it comes to throwing the slider, which Hollands described as more of a feel pitch. He also admitted that he hasn't "really let it go yet," when discussing throwing the fastball. Both are typical things for a pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery, but if those pitches do come around, Hollands has the weaponry to pitch as a starter. If they don't come around, he might not have what he needs to fully compete as a reliever.
There are no guarantees that the Phillies are eyeing Hollands as a starter. If they still consider him to be a reliever, they could be eyeing him as a long man who would replace Brett Oberholtzer - also a lefty - and possibly move Oberholtzer to the rotation. It would probably be easier to have Hollands get fully stretched out in the minors though than it would be to try to get Oberholtzer stretched out in the middle of the season at the major league level. Oberholtzer also doesn't have any options left, so they can't send him to Lehigh Valley to get work as a starter, either.
It will be interesting to keep an eye on Hollands' progress. Will they continue to stretch him out and have him pitch with a number of days between appearances, or will they back him off a little and test the arm pitching on back-to-back days? It's very possible that the added workload is simply a means of strengthening the arm, but whether that's the true plan or not, moving him to the rotation might make a lot of sense for both now and the future.
Mario Hollands 2016 stats